The slow evolution of UNASUR in South America (this continent’s version of the European Union), and the fact that Uruguay and Chile now have standards of living that are beginning to look like those of Scandinavian countries, have gotten little to no attention in North American corporate media.
Today, Uruguay has the highest standard of living south of the Rio Grande. It has a poverty rate lower than 2%, gay marriage, legal marihuana, and a highly efficient and prosperous socialized economy that produces a robust middle class, rather than producing the levels of marginalization that exist in North America. In fact, it’s thanks to the continent’s recent rejection of disastrous neoliberal policies of past regimes that South America is consolidating its progressive identity. Jose Mujica‘s country is followed closely in prosperity by Chile, a resource-rich land which is emerging as one of the great economic powers of the continent.
Brasil and Mexico may be excused for being superpowers by their sheer size. Also, the legacy of classism and the economic marginalization problems in these countries are quite evident: this graphic shows the considerable difference in income levels between Mexico’s northern states and the predominantly-indigenous southern ones. Brasil’s south also is much wealthier than the rest of the resource-rich country, and many in Sao Paulo are considering secession from the rest of the country as a result of a pervasive sense that they give much more than they get from Brasil.
Other countries in Latin America are slowly emerging out of poverty at impressive rates. The Dominican Republic, which shares an island with Haiti, has seen annual growth at around 7% annually for the last few years and is being transformed by constant development, and so has Bolivia–in great part, thanks to Chinese investment.
Other countries have seen less impressive growth, but they nonetheless have shown great promise. Panama City is clean and prosperous enough to be considered the Dubai of the Americas. And Costa Rica, with its stable and prosperous green economy and its history of pacifism, is the Switzerland of the Americas.
Another point that must be noted is that the region is beginning to exhibit levels of stability that past generations never knew. UNASUR–the Union of South American Nations–has gained enough momentum and power to stop a burgeoning coup d’état, which threatened to remove the democratically-elected president of Ecuador. UNASUR is beginning to perform a role in stabilizing the region similar to that of the EU in Europe. It’s also advancing scientific exchange and strengthening regional and cultural solidarities.
The long-term goals of UNASUR include a shared passport and visa for all citizens of South America, a shared military to defend the region, and UNASUR also has an ongoing process that seeks to make their university programs mutually compatible so that a Masters or PhD program in any South American university will be considered valid, and its educational credits recognized, in university systems all over the continent.
The countries in the Cono Sur–the “Southern Cone” of Latin America–are the most promising, although Argentina continues to struggle with fiscal and debt problems. It’s out of Argentina and Chile that the Spanish language has taken root in Anctartica. Although the southernmost continent is under international treaty and cannot be exploited or settled, except for scientific reasons, these two Cono Sur countries are positioning themselves to become two of the dominant cultures in the Southern Pole region once the treaty expires.
The future of Anctartica is to a great extent Latin American, with icy towns bearing names like Villa Las Estrellas and Esperanza. About a dozen citizens of Argentina and Chile have already been born in Anctartic settlements, with the first child ever born there being an Argentinian who is now in his thirties.
The 21st Century is widely considered the Asian and Chinese century, and the silent yet persistent growth that we’re seeing in the South may not be getting much attention, but it seems the future has never looked brighter than it does now for Latin America.